The Deep by Rivers Solomon tells of the Wajinru, who dwell deep in the ocean. They are descended from the women thrown overboard off slave ships, and they have evolved into beings that resemble fish. Now, one of them carries all the memories of their people—the Historian. Yetu has been Historian since she was a teenager, but by now the task is weighing on her to the point of harm. So at the first opportunity, she abandons the other Wajinru and flees to the surface to find out who she is, on her own.
This is an engaging novella, with a compelling underwater universe and intriguing lore. Yetu’s journey, both physically and emotionally, is touching. She grapples with concepts of identity and attraction and legacy in a well-written character arc that ties in perfectly to the themes of this book.
And truly, the themes are brilliant. This book frames ideas of racial trauma and history as a literal burden, which causes the bearer a lot of pain. It makes us ask the question, who should carry the weight of this history, and how? Would it be better to give up knowledge, when it hurts to know? However, this book isn’t negative about these ideas; rather, it implores that we learn about our own heritages, no matter how painful, and share them with others to obtain a better understanding. This book resonates.
Not to mention, it’s a delightful work of remix. It in itself is a kind of descendant, a product of the oeuvre of the musical duo Drexciya and the resulting song “The Deep” by the hip hop group Clipping (who helped Solomon with this book). Each version of this fantasy universe was influenced by, and influences, the others in turn. There’s a fascinating dialogue going on between these three creations, as the Afterword explains. I didn’t know much about the source of this novel, beyond the fact it was based on a song by the group led by Hamilton’s original Lafayette/Jefferson, Daveed Diggs. Now that I know more, I’m kind of enchanted by the way these works interact. But anyway, I’m rambling.
In the end, The Deep is an interesting, thought-provoking novella about history and legacy and one’s place in the world. The characters are good, the writing pretty, and the themes wonderful. It’s a work that merits discussion and rereads, and exploration of its sources, as well as the tragic history that inspired all these artists. And the audio version, which I listened to, is great; Daveed Diggs does a great job!
Overall rating: 8.5/10